UN electoral team set to travel to Iraq in a few days

“The coalition has promised to do the maximum to protect the team working in Iraq. I think that in a few days the team will be able to travel and start its work,” the Secretary-General told reporters in Brussels after inaugurating the UN’s new European Regional Information Centre, which replaces nine national UN information centres that were closed down at the end of 2003.The Secretary-General announced Tuesday that he would follow through with a request earlier this month by Iraqi and coalition officials for a UN technical mission to visit Iraq to establish whether elections for a transitional national assembly can be held before 30 June, and, if not, what alternative arrangement would be acceptable.Two separate UN security teams are already in the country; the first is liasing with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the coalition forces, as well as providing a focal point for UN national staff remaining in Iraq, while the second is preparing for the arrival of the electoral team.Responding to other questions during the press encounter, the Secretary-General said he was concerned about the situation in the Middle East, describing it as “extremely worrying.””We have seen in the last couple of days many, many people killed,” he said. “As you know, I have always condemned without reservation suicide bombings that take innocent lives and have also indicated that we need to be active and energize our efforts to find a way of bringing the parties to the table.””And it is essential that we do all we can to lead them to the path of peace and I believe we owe it to the people in the region, their families and their children, to really find a way of breaking this cycle of violence and revenge,” he added, stressing that, “The only solution to this is to focus on peace.”On his talks last night with the President of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, Mr. Annan said they had a good discussion and that the President also affirmed his determination to resume talks – “the sooner the better.”The Secretary-General added that he would still need to hear from the Turkish Cypriots, “and I would also be in touch with the Greek Government, which is one of the motherlands.”Mr. Annan also noted that he spoke last night to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, who indicated that Washington would be supportive. “We will need all the support we can” get, the Secretary-General said. “We have very little time and I hope the parties will come to the table with concrete ideas and determined to move forward.” Ten nations, including Cyprus, are scheduled to join the European Union on 1 May.The Secretary-General had concluded his official visit to Belgium this morning with a meeting with Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and a dozen senior members of his Government, including Foreign Minister Louis Michel.In the hour-long meeting, they discussed the situation in Iraq. The Secretary-General also made a strong pitch for troop contributions to peacekeeping operations. In addition, the two reviewed in detail the subject of UN reform, according to UN spokesperson in New York.Before leaving Brussels, the Secretary-General received an honorary doctorate degree from Ghent University, and then had a working lunch with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and senior members of their staffs, discussing Cyprus and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).After lunch, the Secretary-General flew to Geneva, where he was to meet with Presidents Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Ricardo Lagos Escobar of Chile and Jacques Chirac of France on a fresh initiative to combat global hunger and poverty.